Two things made this trip special - the people I met along the way, and the food. (You may recall, I categorize my trips as either, "bad food" or "good food" trips). I've not had a Good Food trip in some time, but this one will be one to remember. Even truck stop food was really good!
I'm considering starting a new blog and it's probably going to be titled, "I love my job," because I keep meeting people in unusual places who tell me they just love their job. Like Jateen Patel, owner of the Comfort Inn, in Hebron, IN. I'd had a bad day, needed a motel with a laundry and reliable internet access. Checked in, only to discover that not only did the laundry not work (soccer team had broken it the night before) but the Wii-Fi also didn't. Both Jateen and Michele, the desk clerk, went beyond their duties to fix things. A brand new hotel, me tired, things not working, could have created an unhappy stay. They fixed everything, quickly. And while visiting with Michele, I heard her say, "I just love my job." When I apologized the next day for being a bit grumpy, she said, "I always say, count the blessings, not the days." Jennifer, the day desk clerk, went out of her way to fax my business papers home. And unfortunately, I've lost their photos!
I spent the day before my "duties" (WORT public radio interview, T.V.-13 interview) in Madison looking around State Street. It's the street that stretches between the Wisconsin State Capitol building (largest in the U.S. except for Washington, DC) over to the University. It's where the famous farmer's market is held each Saturday, and where lots of fun eating places and pubs exist. Walking around, just being a quiet tourist, well past lunch time, I spotted a sign in Wanda's Bar that said, "Voted Best Fish-Fry in Madison." So I went in and took a seat at the bar.
The bartender came over and asked what I'd like. I said I'd like to a plate of fish and some iced tea. He looked a bit quizzical, my assumption being, the iced tea order. I was wrong because he replied, "We don't serve fish on Thursdays." I inquired why, thinking there must be some strange law about fish on Thursdays or something, or that he hadn't understood what I'd asked for.
Hotel Ruby Marie is an older, renovated, classy hotel with lots of restaurants nearby. So the next person on my list of outstanding people is Joshua, the smiling face of the Hotel Ruby Marie. He was helpful in finding me a room that first night, and saved me considerable embarrassment the following evening. How you may wonder?
I had Thursday night free and asked for a recommendation of an experimental theater that might be fun. He recommended Mercury Rising, downtown, and suggested a the Old Fashioned tavern & restaurant just around the corner from the theater, for dinner. He also told me his favorite thing to order was the pulled pork sandwich. So downtown I went. Streets aren't always marked well, my Garmin navigator led me in circles, but I found the theater and the Old Fashioned restaurant, and more important, parking. I had just enough time to eat and get to the theater for a showing of 8 contest-winning 15 minute comedies. Once inside the Old Fashioned (named for the drink - they offer many variations on the classic drink) rather than wait for a table, I sat at the bar. The place was packed, mostly with college students. The bar was somewhat dark and loud. I suddenly realized I didn't have my glasses when a menu was placed in front of me, and to my embarrassment, I discovered I could not read one single word on the menu. It might as well been in Chinese, even squinting, no recognizable words would appear. What to do? Ask the very busy bartender (there were 6, all in fast motion) to READ the menu to the oldest guy in the place? How embarrassing would THAT be! But just then I remembered what Joshua at the Ruby had said. "Do you have pulled pork tonight?" I asked, just like I was a regular. And that's what I had, and thanks again, Joshua, it was a very good choice and I didn't have to ask the bartender to read to me.
Next on the list - it's long and should be 2 posts, but... was Tom Goodwyn, who picked me up at the hotel, gave me a great tour of Madison, then drove me to my 8 a.m. radio interview on public radio WORT. To both of our surprises, I knew his former partner in Minneapolis, many years ago. We found we had several acquaintances in common. And even more, the Volunteer Outreach Coordinator at Radio WORT, Glenn Mithroff, also knew people I know from years ago. What a small world! Tom was a delightful host, showing me the botanic garden, Lazy Jane's Bakery for breakfast and Tom will be a long time friend, I'm certain.
Then there's Marge Synder, president of the Madison Herb Society. What a sweetheart! She took me to lunch at her favorite Thai restaurant and we visited about her world travels and mine. She's a very talented chef and author of several outstanding cookbooks. She hosted the Board of the herb society for a dinner in my honor at her home and it was great fun. She's prepared pizza crusts in advance and when we arrived, served us rosemary cosmopolitans to sip while we prepared the pizzas. She divided the 10 of us into little groups, gave us recipes and a pizza crust and said, "get to work." I always think that working on a project in the kitchen is one of the very best ways to get to know people and this proved it.
The pizzas were Marge's own concoctions and I wish I'd kept the recipes she handed us when we went to work. She teaches cooking classes, so following her instructions were easy. One of my favorite pizzas had shrimp, mozzarella, chopped cilantro and mint, green onions. Another was sausage, mushrooms and I think, walnuts. Another was caramelized onions and goat cheese. They were all fantastic and we had a delightful evening.
And since herb groups always eat well, the Madison H.S. had a brunch for about 60 people on the day of my program. Herb people go all out for food, and the offerings from the members were incredible. I tried really hard but could not find one single dish I didn't like! The Shiitake-Ramp quiche (ramps are wild leeks) was outstanding, so were the egg salad sandwiches, the salads and desserts, all herb based and all waaay too delicious.
My program, Eat Your Landscape, was well attended and held in Olbrich Botanic Garden's educational rooms. Olbrich is a city park, but what a delightful place, well designed, very popular place to visit by locals and beyond. It will stand proudly beside any botanic garden anywhere.
More to come.....